The breathtaking depth in the catalogue of one Hiram King Williams means that distilling his finest work into one playlist is an almost impossible task, such was the mark he left as one of the true pioneers of country music. At uDiscover, we’re paying our respects via a selection of just some of his greatest material, as we present Hank Williams In 20 Songs.
Hank paid his dues as a country hopeful for several years before making his studio debut, firstly for the Sterling label and then at the label where he made such an indelible mark, MGM Records. That late breakthrough, and his untimely demise from alcohol and drug abuse at the criminally early age of 29, meant that Williams’ recording career lasted for less than six years.
Hank was especially influenced in his early years by one of the great country stars of the 1940s, Roy Acuff. He later joked that because there already was a Roy Acuff, he started singing like Hank Williams. But he would also be quite dismissive about any categorisation of his style. “I don’t know what you mean by country music,” he once said. “I just make music the way I know how.”
The tragedy of his early demise is a sad story for another day, but what a legacy he left during that brief heyday. Our playlist begins with one of those early sides for Sterling, ‘Honky Tonkin,” before launching into his first country chart success from 1947, the rousing ‘Move It On Over.’ There are nine No. 1 country hits in a list of songs that have attracted hundreds of cover versions, as later country stars and notable names in pop, rock and rhythm and blues all acknowledged their debut to this unique trailblazer.
‘Jambalaya (On The Bayou),’ which topped the country chart for Hank in 1952, became a staple for the Carpenters a generation later; ‘Lovesick Blues’ was cut by everyone from Patsy Cline to Merle Haggard and was a UK No. 1 for Frank Ifield; the heartbreaking ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’ became associated with recording giants from Johnny Cash to Little Richard; and so the list goes on, further illustrated by endless classics from ‘Cold, Cold Heart’ to ‘There’s a Tear In My Beer.’
We conclude with the song written and recorded with a degree of black humour by Williams late in 1952, and which had started its chart climb just before he passed away on New Year’s Day, 1953. ‘I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive’ was not just darkly prophetic, it typified the combination of smart, searing lyrics, yearning vocals and superb playing that made Hank Williams an absolute musical one-off.
Listen to Hank Williams In 20 Songs on Spotify